Mobile Pope

September 22nd, 2015

Earlier in my career, I spent four years in Rome. As the one of the few non-Catholic clergy on speaking terms with the Catholic Church (most Italian Protestants were either very left-wing Methodists or right-wing Evangelicals), I was invited once or twice a year to ecumenical events with the Pope. My wife and I would sometimes meet John Paul II at a “private” audience for the few visiting clergy.

Pope John Paul ranks for me among the three most charismatic people I have ever met in my life. More than a celebrity, he was truly magnetic–instantly likable.

By all accounts, Pope Francis shares the instant attractiveness of his predecessor-minus-one. While even those of us in the religious field are amazed at all the attention being paid to his U.S. visit, it is perhaps not so surprising. People are fascinated by someone who is not rich or beautiful or probably even extraordinarily bright or talented–but has the charism or gift of helping people to believe. May God bless his visit. –J. Douglas Ousley

Answering the Call

September 11th, 2015

A generally quiet remembrance here of the 9/11 Terror Attacks, two miles from the Twin Towers.

But there were a few more people coming into church and a larger than usual crowd attending the Friday service. A novelty this year, provided by our Associate Rector were little flash tattoos of a feather. These were offered by a group of widows and orphans of NY firefighters and police who died in the disaster or who succumbed to ailments stemming from the attacks.

We put a little sign out front of the church and a basket of the tattoos inside the door and were surprised to find people coming in to snatch them up. It’s touching that folks want visible symbols of their thoughts and feelings. And good news for followers of a sacramental religion. –J. Douglas Ousley

Slaves to Wall Street

September 4th, 2015

Endowments are a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, they provide money that doesn’t have to be raised every year from people who are current attendees of the parish. They often–as in Incarnation’s case–can support buildings that otherwise couldn’t be maintained.

On the other hand, they can lull a congregation into believing they don’t need to give sacrificially to their church. They let the endowment will pick up the tab. That attitude can limit new work in the parish or can lead to cutbacks and deferred maintenance or even to drawing down the endowment. And the idea that we need only give a modest tip to the parish every year isn’t likely to deepen our commitment to the work of Jesus Christ.

So the Wall Street jitters vibrate into our own endowed parish. But, at the least, they may spur our Stewardship 2016 program–and financial downturns usually bring new people to church! –J. Douglas Ousley

Happy Times

August 10th, 2015

Our annual Vacation Bible School started today and the program was filled to bursting with 21 children. While we aim to provide religious content this week–including detailed knowledge of the story of Noah’s Ark–my main hope for the program is that the children who attend have a good time.

Many adults look back on their youthful experiences of church and only remember the bad things: poor discipline or excessive discipline, boredom, rigid dogma. Any useful religion that they might have picked up as children was overwhelmed by the negative memories.

So, at the very least, the church can try to make its young attendees happy. Vacation Bible School and Sunday School can be remembered as fun. Maybe even recalled as times when children have glimpsed the joy of God. –J. Douglas Ousley

Diversity Disappointment

August 3rd, 2015

A recent Pew Research Poll ranks 31 American religious groups according to their racial diversity. The Episcopal Church ranks 25 out of 31.

After decades of emphasizing racial inclusiveness and affirmative action appointments, it must surely disappointing to church leaders that our church remains overwhelmingly white. Only 4% black and 2% Latino. Asians barely register.

This is not true in our diocese–or in our parish, for example; both would be higher, though I don’t know the actual numbers. But the national data suggest that simply appointing or electing non-whites to high office will not itself bring rank-and-file people of color into our congregations.

I don’t have any new and bright ideas. It’s interesting, though, that the most diverse denominations–such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Roman Catholics–emphasize religion and faith over outreach and politics. –J. Douglas Ousley

Selma Revisited

July 29th, 2015

We had a large and diverse group in last night to see the film, Selma. Most viewers had been too young to remember any of the events in the movie, so much of it came as news.

Perhaps predictably, the Christian element of Dr. King’s message was played down; I’m not sure the name of Jesus was even mentioned. On the other hand, the entirely black constituency of King’s early movement was accurately portrayed–especially worth showing since so many white liberals of the 60’s generation have made implicit claims to being essential to the movement from the beginning.

One final thought: while race relations are much better today, there of course remains much to do. With that need in mind, we should appreciate the role of the federal government in giving King the protection he needed. Sometimes, the only authority that works comes from the top. –J. Douglas Ousley

Hope Springs Eternal

July 20th, 2015

Yesterday, Incarnation welcomed a new Associate Rector, Adrian Dannhauser.

Adrian delivered a rousing sermon, complete with song. We all look forward to her ministry among us.

“Hope springs eternal,” the saying goes. But eternal hope is be incarnated in temporal signs. Incarnation can be proud that a talented and energetic priest has committed herself to God’s work here. Let’s pray for her and give thanks to God for this sign of hope. –J. Douglas Ousley


July 13th, 2015

Clergy looking to upgrade their positions will ask a church seeking a rector what their “ASA” is. “ASA” stands for “average Sunday attendance.” The figure is calculated for every Episcopal parish’s Parochial Report that must be submitted each year to the national church offices.

Of course, each church is free to count attendees as they like. Some will count anyone who enters the church during the time of a service; others will count only those who are present for the whole service. An early mentor of mine said such figures aren’t really much good; what is valuable is having the same person making the count year-in and year-out. Trends over time will probably signify growth or decline.

But students of the most recent downward trends in the Church of England have argued that attendance isn’t always the best criterion for whether a church is effective. After all, attendance in virtually every volunteer activity–from bowling leagues to Little League to Junior League–has been declining for many years. In fact, compared to these secular organizations, the church is not doing so badly.

I’m not sure I agree with this analysis. It still sounds like an excuse. For what it’s worth, Incarnation’s ASA increased 5% in 2014 over 2013. But from my point of view, we could still do far more to invite people into the fellowship of Christ. –J. Douglas Ousley

Same Old

July 7th, 2015

Never has a modern General Convention of the Episcopal Church attracted so little media attention.

Other than the election by the bishops of a new Presiding Bishop (the “first black…”), some procedural and organizational changes, special funds to black social activist groups, and the usual medley of resolutions for global peace and justice, it’s not clear what was accomplished. Thousands of people, millions of dollars, and a gigantic carbon footprint: let’s hope there will be peace and justice in the church for the next three years. And maybe some new members. –J. Douglas Ousley

For Once, I Was Right

June 29th, 2015

I have an almost perfect talent for mis-predicting the outcomes of elections.

But I got last Saturday’s election right. In fact, I predicted a year ago that Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina would be a strong candidate for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. At the beginning of this year’s General Convention in Salt Lake City, the House of Bishops chose him to be our next PB.

The election was surprisingly lop-sided, indicating that our bishops recognize the need for a powerful preacher and charismatic personality at the helm. One person can’t do everything. But we can at least put our best bishop to the front of the line. Deo gratias. –J. Douglas Ousley